A walk around Mei Foo

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Mei Foo was our home in Hong Kong, and not two minutes from our flat was the beautiful Lai Chi Kok park. We were lucky to be so close to such a beautiful area, with Chinese gardens, fountains and walkways. … Continue reading

Strange HK names

From an early age, children in Hong Kong are given ‘English’ names in addition to their Chinese names. I am told that it’s to increase their chances in making it in the world; that having an English name will make it easier in the future for them to make and do business with foreign companies, that it will be too confusing for foreign customers to have to deal with a Chinese name (which part of the three word name is the surname? which do they like to be called by?). In part I can understand this, though I don’t necessarily agree with it. However, this being so, unless the family have had much exposure to foreigners and foreign names already, some of the names they choose for their children leave a lot to be desired and would actually surely hinder the progress of their children in the future, rather than elevate it to the position they would hope for. Some, it seems, just open the dictionary and choose a cool word from inside, regardless of meaning.

Here is a (genuine) list of some of the names of people Helen or I have met or taught whose names are out of the ordinary!

Ambulance

Bale

Beano

Boey

Bosco

Caesar

Candy

Charing

Fanny

Fish

Genie

Hunter

Kiwi

Money

Monkey

Moon

Ocean

Poey

Queenie

Qenby

Quintina

Rain

Ring

Swallow

Venus

Wallance

Wasabi

Watermelon

Whiskey

Winner

Winky

Zap

Christmas in Hong Kong

Christmas Day started with a merry breakfast of leftover pierogi and looking at what Father Christmas had left for us overnight. A leisurely morning was spent playing with our presents and eating chocolates, before attention turned to Christmas dinner.

After Helen’s success with Wigilja the day before, it was now my turn to try and pull off a pot roast dinner without ever having done it before. Armed with the opening of a bottle of Bucks Fizz and the wealth of the internet at my disposal, the recipes seemed much easier than I’d thought.

P1070279We’d found a whole chicken in the supermarket (no turkey this year; they did sell them here, but not in sizes that would anywhere near fit in our pot), and unlike lots of the whole chickens here the head and feet had thankfully already been removed. Any fears of immediate butchery were allayed furthermore upon discovery of the giblets already removed and packed in a bag inside ready for throwing straight in the bin.

I quickly browned the outside of the chicken, before removing it from the pot to quickly half fry some onions before adding some carrots and broccoli, before delicately sliding the chicken back in again. And that was all I needed to do, so I left it with the lid on for a couple of hours and didn’t have to think much about it apart from checking it every half hour or so. Remarkably easy on the face of it!

We sat down to watch My Fair Lady and finish the Bucks Fizz while we waited, and also treated ourselves to some more chocolates. As it was getting ready, we put some potatoes on, and tried roasting some of them by crispy-ing the edges in a pan after they done, which worked pretty well. We also attempted making some stuffing by wrapping the mixture in tin foil and leaving that in the pan next to the roasting potatoes. I think if we’d started that a little earlier it would have worked just as well, but I think we left it a little late so it was still a little soggy when we started eating.

Overall impression – not quite a roast dinner but bloody marvellous considering nonetheless!

P1070289After dinner we were exhausted and wanted to crash out for a couple of hours in the afternoon, and I managed a little snooze over the end of My Fair Lady. It was our first real break from anything to do for a few days, and it had been non-stop until then!

That evening it was my turn for the family Skype and it was great to see everybody again having Christmas back at home in England. Whilst we still had a very nice time and tried replicating Christmas as best we could here, there was definitely still that little something missing, and hopefully next year we’ll be able to get back again to see everyone for Christmas once again.

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Wigilja

6pm Christmas Eve, work finished and heading home for Christmas. A calm day at school, not many people want to come in on Christmas Eve; the schools are on holiday, and the adults generally wanted a break. Everyone was very keen to get home, the trains were the busiest I’ve seen in Hong Kong.

P1070239Helen’s had the day off, and has been busy all day cooking food for her Polish Christmas, Wigilja. It’s been troublesome finding some of the ingredients we needed as the Polish market in food seems quite slim. Cheese curd proved the most difficult to find, and we had to settle for Philadelphia instead.

Each course is traditionally started with a shot of Zubrowka vodka, but we couldn’t find any of that either so we made do with France’s finest Royal Castle Vodka, (which was as stomach-retchingly not Zubrowka as it sounds). The first course was a salmon salad, with capers and olives and we dropped in some cottage cheese too, and it was blooming delicious.

Between the first and second courses, Helen’s mum called on Skype and we had a little chat while they opened each other’s presents (that happens on Christmas Eve too in Poland) whilst her drinking sherry and us more vodka.

P1070196Another shot preceded the second course, pierogi. Pierogi are little dumplings of dough, containing a filling of the cheese curds, onions and potatoes, boiled until they float to the the surface. They’re difficult to make, especially here this year with no real counter space, so Helen made them all on the floor instead! Sprinkled with little drippings of melted butter, they were delicious. Because they’re relatively small (about the length of a finger), you can eat quite a lot, and we had a load of them!

Indeed, we even had so many that we weren’t really hungry enough for what should have been the third course of carp, so we never got round to it. We opened half of our presents, saving the other half for the morning, and had some Christmas chocolates instead.

What we were worrying about being a bit of a disaster due to lack of ingredients actually turned out fantastically well, and my compliments went to the chef (Helen!) for a lovely meal. Tomorrow would be Christmas Day, and my turn to try my traditional Christmas roast with lack of food and without even an oven!

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The past 4 months

Finally I’m back at work! After two weeks holiday, two weeks job hunting, two weeks attending interviews and two months waiting for my visa to arrive, finally the Hong Kong honeymoon is over! Which is a bit of luck really, as I’ve now spent all the money I’d saved in Japan so I’m back at zero until I can start saving again!

“How do you spend four months with nothing to do without going out of your mind?” I hear you asking. Well, it’s not easy. Obviously, the first few weeks were the easiest as I was in a new city and still had lots of money, so I could do lots of exploring and sightseeing and didn’t feel that bad about it. After I’d seen the sights, and it started dawning how there was no more money coming in until not only I’d secured a job, but also started it and been paid for it, the enthusiasm waned a little bit. After attending interviews, trial lessons, second interviews and accepting a job offer, I still had 4-6 weeks while Hong Kong Immigration processed my visa application, and hopefully allowing me to stay and work in the country.

I started going through the Amazon back catalogue, reading the freebies and other interesting titles that caught my fancy. I now know a lot more about the Victorian explorers searching for the source of the River Nile, and how their actions inadvertently led towards the scramble for Africa by the European empires at the turn of the twentieth century, a book which led to me others both fiction and non-fiction about the empires.

Without wanting to completely waste those 4-6 weeks, I also set out to try and learn as many kanji as possible (the Chinese characters they also in Japanese), and ended up with a not too shabby 1500 odd. I have been missing my weekends learning Japanese in the Doutor coffee shop in Kami Shakujii and my weekly lessons with Junko, so I will have to have to try and get back into the swing of things soon and try to find someone here who I can practice with.

It is very nice now to be back at work again though, even though my free time has now shot right down again. It’s nice to have a focus again and something to get out of bed in the morning for, something I haven’t really had for the past four months.

Onwards then to Christmas!

A night at the races

Wednesday nights in Hong Kong are racing nights, where the locals (and so it seemed more tourists) flock to the Happy Valley racecourse, a 10 minute tram ride from Causeway Bay MTR station. Built over 150 years ago, it’s become almost hemmed in by skyscrapers in the last 30 years, and they provide a spectacular backdrop to the course. This also means it’s one of the few racecourses in the world which is truly in the city centre.

Being the only legalised form of gambling in Hong Kong, everyone at the course seems to be having a bet. We only made measly 10HKD wagers (about £1), but saw discarded betting slips of thousands of dollars! Their official website says that one night’s racing can often match an entire years betting at Western race tracks, but I suppose people in Hong Kong are driven by making (and presumably here, losing too) money so it’s mere childsplay to them.

After paying a 10HKD entry fee, you’re immediately at trackside, surrounded by bars, bookies and McDonalds. An enormous seven-tier grandstand lines the finishing straight and looms fantastically overhead, whilst big screens have the latest odds and the cameras focused on the horses, and speakers shout out commentary and tips for the next race. The grass is lush and a green only rivalled in colour in my memory by the first day of the season at Selhurst Park.

Picking up a brochure of the day’s runners and riders, you look at the form and condition of the horses before picking the one with the best name or the prettiest jersey to spend your 10 dollars on. Betting slip in hand, you wait for the horses to enter the stalls before spending the next few minutes squinting in vain at the big screen for the numbers of the leaders, following the horses round the bends before screaming at what may or may not be your horse to get a bloody move on as they thunder down the home straight before more squinting at the big screen to see that the horse you thought was yours was actually someone else’s, and that yet again that’s 10 (or many thousands) of dollars down the drain. You never see a poor bookie!